By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
Below is a speech delivered by Yusef Taylor of Gainako Online news on Tuesday 18th May 2021 on the Diaspora voting legislation submitted to the National Assembly’s Joint Committee of the Regional Government and Lands, Ombudsman and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and Human Rights and Constitutional Matters.
Good afternoon Hon members of the National Assembly. It is indeed an honour to be afforded this rare opportunity to speak before your August body. My name is Yusef Taylor and commonly known as Flex Dan. I am a Gambian Journalist and Civil Society Advocate who returned home from the United Kingdom in October 2018.
I would like to inform this August body that I have never been afforded the right to vote and I am well in my thirties now because of my location, timing of coming to age and the previous government’s reluctance to extend the Franchise.
I could not afford to first travel to register and again to vote. Which is what everybody in the Diaspora has to do to be able to vote.
I will start by making reference to this very committee’s consultation with Political Stakeholders on 4th May 2021 where reference was made to the Diaspora as the Eighth 8th region of The Gambia. I know a very important point for the Diaspora to vote is around the issue of a Constituency. I want to make it clear to this August body that at the first ‘Stake in the Nation Forum’ on 13 January 2018, the President had declared the diaspora as the Eighth Region of The Gambia.”
I hope that will help this August body because that is not currently within the Elections Bill. Maybe this could be seen as an omission. It’s very clear that the Government had a Policy three years ago, it is not just a policy as it created the Gambian Diaspora Directorate with a specific mission under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to promote support and facilitate National Development of the Diaspora. I want to highlight that within this document.
It is now the National Assembly’s choice to implement and to turn Policy into law.
Provision 11 in the 1996 Elections Act is clear in that the Diaspora can be registered. Whether the National Assembly feels that this is sufficient, I would recommend that they take up registration and voting as separate exercises.
Moving on, provision 141 of the 1996 Elections Act is also clear – because the IEC has said that they may progress with the current legal provision – section 141 of the 1996 Elections Act is clear in that it allows for the authorities to provide additional laws specifically for Diaspora voting in Presidential Elections.
There are so many of these laws like the Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission that should have been enacted by this August body since the creation of the 1997 Constitution. These are some of the provisions which will be a boost if the National Assembly can make sure that they push through some of these provisions and are brought into law.
So, I, therefore, urge the National Assembly to seize this unique opportunity to turn the Government’s Policy into law. If this first hurdle is overcome then the dream of a Diaspora Vote will remain alive. But if this does not come into fruition the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the IEC, all the Institutions will have an excuse that your August body did not ensure that the right legislation was in place before the elections and they will latch on to that.
I am not highlighting this to apportion blame but I will end with the words of the IEC Vice Chairperson, Mr Joe Colley who told this August body that “if the Supreme Court has ruled that the Diaspora must participate in all elections then we have to prepare for it. It’s not only IEC. It’s everybody’s job” [21st April 2021].